Tom Haines

Missing Meigs

April 16, 2009 by Thomas B. Haines, Editor in Chief

The Garmin GNS 530 reported a groundspeed of 119 knots while reporting a true airspeed of 162 knots–43 knots of wind on the nose, adding a full hour to the trip from Frederick, Maryland, to Chicago. Even running lean of peak exhaust gas temperature, I was beginning to wonder about fuel reserves. The 530 was showing more than an hour and 15 minutes of fuel on landing, but that’s a straight line to the destination of Chicago Executive, Palwaukee (PWK). And I knew that Chicago Approach wouldn’t allow us a direct route over the city and Chicago O’Hare to PWK.

As predicted, the first Chicago Approach controller had a re-route for us, but at least a choice. Either over the southern end of Lake Michigan–a bit more direct, or south and west of the city before turning back toward PWK–longer, for sure. I chose the longer route because that lake is COLD this time of year in particular and we would be at relatively low altitude by then.

So around Robinhood’s barn we went and ultimately landed with about an hour of fuel on this VFR day, so plenty. Then it was nearly an hour car ride downtown where we really wanted to go. If only there were a GA airport nearer downtown. What a concept!

Standing on the lake shore looking out at Northerly Island, I felt as if I were at a wake–missing an old friend. Once the site of embattled Meigs Field, a perfect GA airport only blocks from the heart of Chicago, the island is now just another park among dozens along the lake shore. Mayor Richard Daley cowardly bulldozed the airport under the cover of darkness, knowing he couldn’t get away with it any other way.

For pilots, the Meigs legacy has become the poster child of the dangers of backroom politics and lack of federal protection for key airports. Legislation since then may reduce the likelihood of such a deed occurring again, but it won’t stop those of us who enjoy Chicago from wishing we had a more convenient choice.

Don’t let this happen to your airport. AOPA has lots of resources to help you protect your airport from the Mayor Daleys of the world and others who would do general aviation harm. But most important, get involved.


5 Responses to “Missing Meigs”

  1. Brendan Reynolds Says:

    I loved Meigs Field, and miss it dearly. I do not approve of Mayor Richard Daley’s illegal and immediate method of decommissioning the airport. I say this because I don’t want to get lynched at Oshkosh.

    I’m a pilot and want to protect small airports, but I don’t see how we can win this messaging war. There are some facts that I feel,we as a community, have not addressed satisfactorily.

    Our normal airport defense arsenal of economic development, emergency access and protection of open spaces is not completely relevant in the case of Meigs Field. Those arguments were designed to protect small airports in small communities.

    First, Chicago is not undeserved. It has a Class Bravo and a Class Charlie within the city limits and several Class Delta airports in the immediate vicinity. Second, Meigs Field was owned by the Chicago Park District and paid for by the City of Chicago. It was not a private enterprise. And third, Meigs Field was under utilized; as it was generally used by a relatively small group of relatively wealthy citizens, a group not representative of Chicagoans at large.

    The airport did not add substantially to the local economy. I’ve heard pilots claim that they used to fly in for dinner and shopping trips, but surely the resultant tax revenue iis incomparable to the cost of operating the airport.

    Emergency access is not a pain point Chicago has ever faced. Although with the security protocols involved in getting the first family in and out of Midway, Meigs Field would no doubt prove convenient.

    This is not an airport that fell victim to real estate development. Rather than a mall or condos, Meigs became a park. An open public space that’s used by far more people than the airport ever was.

    When we talk about airport protection we tend to get intensely angry at Mayor Daley. As if he acted alone in an unexpected and completely irrational manner. But that’s an oversimplification.

    Meigs disappeared in the middle of the night as a result of a complicated political and economic context. If we are going to save airports and prevent this from happening again, we need to work much harder at understanding the the full threat they face. It’s rarely a single politician or developer.

    We need you articulate the value of these resources in a more accessible and understandable way. And not one that comes across as a special interest group protecting the interests of wealthy hobbyists.

  2. David Reinhart Says:

    Meigs was “under utilized” because the city made it as expensive and inconvenient to use the airport as it could for years before closing it. The power of the Daley political machine enabled Chicago to get term written into its grant assurances that no other entity has ever been able to get.

  3. Bob H. Says:

    We’ve had the need to go to Chicago twice in the past year. I’ve used Midway both times with success. Nevertheless, in both cases I surely would have chosen Meigs, which is just 15 minutes from where we were staying and visiting. At the Chicago History Museum, there was an exhibit where the future vision of Chicago according to the exhibitor is to turn Midway into a retail bizarre with a green twist. It’s very futuristic and unlikely, or is it?

    Anyway, we have the same problem in DC, a city that for all intents and purposes has no full service (tower, long runways, 24-hour fuel, etc) GA airport. The airports around DC make Midway look like a downtown city airport.

    They stopped making land a long time ago, so every time an airport is closed, the barriers to replacing it are significant, maybe even infinite! I still hold out hope that someone might provide a grant to reclaim the island, or make a new one artificially, and put a runway on it.

    Finally, our country needs Meigs Field, symbolically and logistically.

  4. Rachel Goodstein Says:

    Every so often I google “Meigs Field” to see how it is mentioned in the news and so I found this column.

    First, thanks to the AOPA for its tireless support in the efforts that saved Meigs Field and fought Daley’s illegal closure of the airport.

    Second, Mr. Reynolds comment contains many inaccuracies about Meigs and its function in Chicago. The Friends of Meigs Field website is still functioning and contains everything about Meigs. Visit it at .

    But some of Mr. Reynolds inaccuracies need to be corrected here.

    Meigs was mismanaged by the Daley administration.

    Meigs was primarily used for business and was a significant factor in winning conventions for McCormick Place. There has been a downturn in convention business since the demise of Meigs.

    When we sued the City and the Mayor the lead plaintiff was the Illinois Association of Air and Critical Care, the medevac people. Only a couple of Chicago hospitals have heliports and most medical flying was done at Meigs. For example, each week at least one heart harvested for transplant came in or went out of Meigs. In 2007, The Chicago Tribune reported that surgeries at the heart centers in Chicago were significantly reduced. The connection is the loss of Meigs. 52 weeks times 6 years computes to about 300 lives not saved due to Daley’s actions.

    Meigs did fall victim to real estate development. It is open space with an asphalt path around it because Daley was denied his casino license and the park district is strapped for cash to build anything there.

    Meigs disappeared in the middle of the night because Daley plotted for weeks to close it. The good news is that John Harris, who was the Deputy Aviation Commissioner who crafted the illegal actions, was arrested with former Governor Blagojevich. And it is reported that John Harris is cooperating with Federal prosecutors.

    Rachel Goodstein
    Past President, Friends of Meigs Field (2002-2004

  5. Scott J. Smith Says:

    Hope on the horizon? In today’s AOPA ePilot, a mention that with Mayor Daley moving on, hope has returned for supporters of Meigs Field. Let’s hope so.

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